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It's Not Getting Done: #1

The Big Picture, by,

Martha Adams

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If you are writing a one-paragraph work order or starting up a five-acres industrial complex, you need a Big Picture of what you're up to. What is your objective and how do you think you will reach it? At least time, money and risk cost? The Big Picture is not a rigidly defined machine, a piston-rod-crankshaft assembly. It's more of a pipeline, where the list of intermediate objectives is malleable and only the end objective is well defined.

Where the pipeline is not in evidence and the end objective is vague and elastic, that's a strong warning that it's not real. That it's PR or make-work. With no objective nor any plan to get there, it's going nowhere.

These 'Not Getting Done' pieces grow out of my own Big Picture of what needs doing to build off-Terra settlements. To get from here today to there asap. As I develop the following pages, I point to critical needs NASA seems to not have heard of, and to how a group of dedicated space settlements workers might come together and build those settlements we so very much need Out There.

There is no good reason today why a first generation of human Martians isn't growing up on Mars now. Or off-Terra somewhere else today, like an Aldrin cycler. We need to do something about that. It is the largest and most serious problem facing our human reality today. We need to respond soon, because we risk responding too late.

I'll open with, What's the Big Picture? Why space settlements? At any time?

* * *

My first and most central Big Picture point is, because there's change coming. I'm not talking about hot or cold, wet or dry years. I mean some major, character-changing, Big One. After which, our Terra is different and it stays different. Without rational attention to the possibility, we easily imagine our local Terra is a fine place for us all (if we can work out a few differences) and that into the indefinitely far future, it won't change. (Much.)

That's not so! This easy and comfortable belief is mistaken because ongoing social / political process right here on Terra makes it not so [1]. (Watch out for the closely related climate change now well started.) It is mistaken because we know through astronomical science us that our universe is violent and that sooner or later, some of that violence will come to call. Here.

* * *

My second Big Picture point follows immediately from my first. That Big One will happen at some point in time. A vague "maybe someday" of no present significance, may abruptly become a hard NOW, with little or no time to make ready for it. Never mind the soft deadlines that come up in the news from time to time. This Big One is different. It changes our Terra beyond recognition. Some of us may survive that Big One and we can still live here on Terra, but we can't count on that. We don't know what this Big One is; we don't know when it is. But thru science and rational thinking, we know it's out there in our local Terran future.

(Related comment, not amusing: "The reason the dinosaurs aren't here today, is they didn't have a space program." -- Jerry Pournelle, science fiction author.)

In fact, our deadline doesn't need even to be particularly catastrophic. Anyone who has lived on a farm can tell you what small seasonal variations can do to the farm's work and life. (A single hard hail storm comes to mind.) Much bigger than that can happen. I mentioned climate change. How stable are our world social and economics systems against such disruption? (Current events and recent historical observation seem to show us, not very stable.)

A big question around this topic is, if our Terran economic systems fall into chaos, can we build them up again? Here in America, New Orleans after Katrina offers a model good in several respects. And there are those who say, whatever our world becomes in the future, our ability to reach space will not stay with us if we fail to use it to large effect. (Use it or lose it.)

* * *

My third Big Picture point is, PR announcements don't reflect reality. They reflect someone's business choice of pretty pictures and nice words to support and improve their political environment and business climate. They sell a sweet reality, easy to accept. Thus the useful news in PR is generally indirect there, and it wants careful extraction to find it. (The careful PR reader may discern significant news in what's omitted from the PR.)

* * *

My final Big Picture point is, beware the question, "What is space for?" I've heard some very visionary, I mean abstract and dreamy stuff out there, that tries to reply to it. ("Man was meant to explore, etc etc," but how about women and children? Etc etc.)

Misunderstood, this question can serve as an argument against human settlements off-Terra. Used badly, it supports endless philosophizing with no action ever. But this "What is space for?" has answers, and I think I have a good one here. An answer that motivates action. It starts with, "What are we for?"

We have no reason to imagine our selves, our world, our universe, are made by some Big Daddy Out There. Our Terran sky is not provided for our edification, instruction, or to provoke a vague and oceanic awe. No supernatural diety placed the whole rest of the universe all around us for some immense and inconceivable objective with us, children of men, central to it. Rather, obvious and subtle similarities found by scientific study, show that us and all the other living things here on Terra are parts of a single ancestral tree of Terran life. Whose beginnings we partly understand now. And our answer is in it: we are "for" that tree of life; we are "for" our children and we are "for" their children, off into the indefinite future.

What this universe is for, is another topic. Our universe seems to have no "meaning." It happened without our participation. Where were you 13.7 billion years ago? Meaning is a human state of mind. If we want meaning, we must rationally make it. But "we" is not necessarily all of us, so at last this question and its many relatives about human life are personal matters. That a misguided few of us try to impose their own limited perceptions upon all the rest of us, doesn't change basics. No single prescription answers for all people, if they want to study this 'universe' topic.

But on a smaller scale, our local tree of life provides all the meaning we need. I want it to go on, and if it cannot go on here, then elsewhere. Which is what Adra is working at. Has it occurred to you that us humans who have been so very destructive to our local tree of life, are the only resource that can get anything of that tree off Terra to promote its existence longer in time? Here in this Solar system when Terra is gone? Somewhere else when our local Solar System winds up its chaos with only Jupiter and Saturn remaining and all these little bodies here are thrown down into Sol or entirely out of the System? [2]

We have several hard deadlines out there. As humans, we must survive those hard deadlines. As humans, we have the resources to do it, if we can manage the cranks among us. As humans, we can find a purpose for our local Solar System. Like an empty field is completely changed by placing a house on it, space with people in it is completely different from space as a topic for abstract astronomy and cosmology researches. As soon as people are there, "What is space for?" acquires a very simple answer. Space is for people. Obviously!

------------------------------------------------- Notes, Resources, and Pointers:

[1] See Nicholas Thompson, The Doomsday Machine. Wired Magazine, 2009 Oct, p.82. System known as 'Dead Hand.' It's interesting to contemplate this system's existence in a world known to include many well-financed ideologues and intrusive crackers.

[2] Yes, that's what is coming over the long run. About 300 extrasolar planets are known now, and enough detail about these that with the help of large computer simulations, researchers are studying the dynamics and evolutions of real solar systems. That includes, how they became what they are today, and what will happen over long time to them.

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